Discord in Kansas over border war bill details

07/19/2014 7:00 AM

07/19/2014 6:16 PM

The Missouri legislation that would declare a moratorium on corporate poaching in eight counties within the metropolitan Kansas City area, signed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, limped across the state line to Kansas. There it was pronounced dead-on-arrival — at least, in its current form — by Kansas Secretary of Commerce Pat George.

Under conditions of the Missouri legislation, it would take approval from Kansas within two years for the moratorium to go into effect.

In an interview with George, he said the moratorium was “just a piece” of what would be required to come to a bi-state agreement.

At the same time, he offered a ray of hope to those who are clamoring for an end to lavish tax incentives that have showered hundreds of millions of dollars on firms for moving just across the state line, in both directions.

Hall Foundation studies show that Kansas has netted only several hundred new jobs since 2009, at a cost of $300,000 per employee.

George made it clear Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is “willing to look for a solution that is agreeable to both states.”

To help, George is attempting to set up the first face-to-face meetings with Missouri leaders to see if they can come to a resolution.

In Kansas, no legislation is necessary to approve a moratorium on tax incentives. The governor can approve an agreement with an executive order.

The Missouri legislation leaves Kansas at a disadvantage, George said, primarily because it does not address local incentives. Only state incentives are in the bill. Kansas City, for example, can offer property tax abatements of 25 years, whereas Kansas municipalities are restricted to only 10 years.

Echoing George’s reservations about the Missouri legislation is a local grass-roots seven-member advisory board made up of elected officials and economic development leaders, mostly from Johnson County.

Interviews with several revealed a litany of concerns, expressed numerous times before the Missouri legislation passed. Those reservations have been put in writing and published in an open letter, signed by the advisory board members and nearly every mayor in Johnson County.

“The current plan would not leave us with a level playing field,” said Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach.

That view was shared by numerous others. Even State Rep. Tom Burroughs, the lone Wyandotte County board member and a Democrat, expressed skepticism and pointed out several deficiencies.

Republican state Sen. Ryan Silvey, of Kansas City, who sponsored the Missouri bill, said the advisory board’s concerns were “nitpicking.” He said he believes the advisory board “does not want to get the deal done.”

George said the governor pays attention to the advisory board members who have “boots on the ground” and would be involved in the discussions with Missouri leaders.

Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn, who is not on the advisory board but is perhaps the most involved in regional organizations, said she too shared many reservations.

However, Dunn said “Brownback was clearly interested in a resolution.”

Brownback would not want to tackle this issue before his upcoming re-election effort in November. If he were to agree to any terms with Missouri before that, it would create a firestorm of protests from Johnson County political leaders.

But after the election?

Regardless of who is elected, this issue is likely to be a high priority. Some of the most influential business and civic leaders in metropolitan Kansas City have been pressing for a resolution.

At some point, the governor will have to come to terms with Missouri on a solution to the border wars.

“The governor understands we will never get 100 percent of what we want,” said George, “But, he insists, the ‘locals’ cannot be left at a disadvantage.”

Surely, a deal can get done that will address those issues if there is a true desire to work things out.

To reach Steve Rose, a longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to srose@kc.rr.com.

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